Review- Hunter X Hunter Chimera Ant Arc: Of Monsters and Men

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Synopsis: Gon and Killua’s search for Ging continues and now leads them to meet Ging’s apprentice Kite who has a special connection to Gon’s childhood. Meanwhile on the far off content of NGL a mysterious species known as the Chimera Ants is rising up and their overwhelming ablities pose a threat to the entire world. As the three get involved in the chaos, Gon and Killua soon finds themselves in the most desperate battle of their lives.

                                                                        Review

For a long time this story arc of Hunter X Hunter was considered to be the largest justification for the anime reboot. Though Madhouse managed to capture Togashi’s vision much better for the earlier arcs than the previous anime series, this was still the most anticipated material for the series to cover and justly so. Togashi provides a somewhat shocking yet natural departure from his usual formula thus far and in doing has once again proven why his storytelling is so effective.

The beginning of the Chimera Ant arc starts off in full throttle as Gon, Killua and Kite get thrust into the situation pretty quickly. The show quickly establishes that the Chimera Ants are a threat on a whole other level than the others seen thus far in the series and the stakes are far more serious than they’ve ever been. Death runs rampant as countless men, women and (as we’re given the displeasure of seeing first hand) children are caught in the slaughter and even the Hunters themselves aren’t much safer as some previously introduced characters easily fall victim to the ants in their attempt to give birth to their king. This all comes to a head when one of the king’s Royal Guards awakens and battles Kite as Gon and Killua flee upon the latter seeing how outmatched they are, leading to Kite’s death in the process.

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As the arc slowly makes it’s transition to the larger battle, it’s at this point that Togashi begins to reflect on character motivations and start to work out his endgame as loyalties being to shift and new characters are introduced. Killua’s character arc is given the most amount of focus during this transition though, as he is faced with being forced to abandon Gon who has been the driving force behind his character development and is also forced to overcome the fight or flight mentality that has been drilled into him growing up as it directly opposes his desire to protect Gon.

Some other characters go through changes as well as one of the Hunters, Knov who walked around with an air of confidence and professionalism towards his job was thoroughly humbled by his overwhelming fear of the Ants power while Gon’s desire to “rescue” Kite (whose ultimate fate he has yet to realize) begins to slowly take effect on his state of mind. The biggest development during this transition however is the newly born Ant King’s interactions with a human girl named Komugi and the effect she has on him. With all of his pieces set in motion Togashi initiates the final battle of the arc and suddenly everything begins to spiral in a new direction.

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As Fredric Nietzsche once said “He who fights monsters must take care lest he also becomes a monster” and while this is far from the first time this  cautionary tale has been displayed in storytelling, it is in full effect here and the reality of it is quite terrifying. Since the beginning of the series, the show has made a point that despite his seemingly pure and innocent attitude, there was something not quite right about Gon’s sense of morality. He has always judged things not necessarily on a scale of right or wrong but rather what people have done towards or for him. This mentality has led him to befriend assassins and be perfectly comfortable around serial killers if they’ve helped him in some way. Of course as several characters throughout the series have pointed out such a mentality is quite insane and thus it was only a matter of time before something set him over the edge and showed the depths of where it could lead.

Kite’s state impacts Gon in a big way as he loses his innocent nature and slowly transforms into one of the most dangerous players in the battle as he becomes more than willing to threaten and kill others to achieve his vengeance. This all comes to a head in his climatic battle against Neferpitou where he is finally forced to come to terms with the reality that Kite is dead and his hatred sets him so over the edge that he’s willing to give up  everything to destroy his enemy, appropriately transforming into a freakish humanoid monster in a rather disturbing deconstruction of the typical shonen power-up. The most bizarre irony in all of this is that Gon’s vengeance is for the most part, perfectly justified and we should by all means be rooting for him to win but the climax of the battle is so horrific that the only thing left is a feeling of despair rather than triumph despite Gon’s technical victory.

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This isn’t Togashi’s only display of humanity’s darkside though, as the battle between the Ant King and Hunter Chairman Netero also serves as proof. Netero’s final gambit for victory with the Rose Bomb puts some of the evils human science can create in full view and how we can stoop to even the most inhumane of weapons in order to achieve victory on the battlefield. In the end (as a depressing clip show drives it home for anyone who didn’t get the point) the most monstrous beings of all may in fact be humans, and we possess the capacity to commit some of the greatest atrocities imaginable.

However despite many of the implications above, Togashi isn’t out to only show the darkness of humanity but some of the gentleness as well and this is in an ironic twist, done though the perspective of the Chimera  Ants. Though they start off as largely alien, the Chimera Ants slowly come to learn of humanity over the course of the arc with many of them gaining their own sense of individuality and the various agendas that go with them. This has the biggest effect on the Chimera Ant King who through being by Komugi begins to gain respect for humanity and finds himself thrust between his nature as a ruler and his desire to embrace humanity.

As thus it’s fitting that the actual villain of the story isn’t in fact the Ant King (who’s arguably more the protagonist during this arc than Gon himself), but rather his Royal Guard, Shiapouf, who will stop at nothing to ensure that the king rejects humanity and desires to kill Komugi who attaches him to it.  Though despite various bumps and a brief look of what the King would be while completely devoid of humanity, he does eventually discard his nature as the Ant King and he spends his final moments with the one he loves, embracing humankind and leaving Shiapouf to suffer an extremely karmic defeat. The finale to the arc ultimately has several of the Ants exiting as the most human characters of the entire story and while it’s an interesting twist to be sure, it’s also extremely touching.

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While the arc is by and large full of strengths it does suffer from a few weaknesses. The pacing during the major battle of the arc slows down considerably and it makes the episodes somewhat of a hassle to watch on a weekly basis. Additionally while the massive use of narration is generally to the story’s favor as it generally provides a cold analysis of some of the events while making them seem more in real-time, it can also be a bit too intrusive at times and occasionally reiterates things viewers have likely already figured out. Lastly the impact of Kite’s death is somewhat hindered by his awkward introduction into the anime where he and Gon bond at the very beginning of the arc as opposed to in the manga where he was a major influence on Gon from the very beginning.  None of these significantly impact the arc’s effectiveness but they do prevent it from being relatively flawless.

Madhouse’s animation budget for the series has been incredibly consistent for a long running shonen title and it continues here as some of the scenes range from solid looking to downright breathtaking to behold. Yoshihisa Hirano’s musical score which was somewhat uneven in earlier arcs, steps up considerably as it beefs up the impact of several scenes and while the opening theme song Departure feels more out of place than ever in this arc the ending theme songs Nagareboshi Kirai and Hyori Ittai by Yuzu match the somber tone of the arc well. Hiroshi Koujima’s direction for the series also steps up a bit as the decision to do all of events from the major battle of the arc in chronolgical order as opposed to the somewhat erratic shifts in the manga, works very well and makes a lot of the material resonate stronger as a result.

The Chimera Ant arc is a unique departure from typical shonen conventions and is one that is ultimately welcomed as it turns several areas of that formula on it’s head. While the arc isn’t totally flawless, the impact and overall themes of the material are easily strong enough to allow these problems to be overlooked. It provides a grand allegory for the dual sided nature of humanity and reminds us once again of why Hunter X Hunter is a masterpiece of its genre.

Overall: 9.7/10

Available on Crunchyroll

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